A THICK grey haze has enveloped India’s capital, New Delhi, after air pollution hit hazardous levels.

People were covering their faces and noses to protect themselves as readings of the government’s air quality index hovered between 350 and 450, indicating that the health impact of breathing the air is “severe”. The highest reading on the central pollution control board’s index is 500.

The Indian Medical Association said New Delhi was in the midst of a “public health emergency” and appealed to the city government to halt sports and other outdoor activities in schools.

A half-marathon scheduled for later this month has been called off.

Yesterday, Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, in India on a week-long state visit, inspected a military guard of honour at the presidential palace, above, under a cover of smog that hampered visibility.

As winter approaches, a thick, soupy smog routinely envelops most parts of northern India, caused by dust, the burning of crops, emissions from factories and the burning of coal and piles of garbage as the poor try to keep warm.

Over the past two years, New Delhi has become one of the world’s most polluted cities.

According to a recent report by The Lancet medical journal,

one in four premature deaths in India in 2015 – those of 2.5 million people – was attributed to pollution.